Thursday, November 28, 2013

Chico Hamilton

     I read in the paper today that Chico Hamilton died, aged 93...time is flying... I always looked forward to seeing him when he appeared at Birdland when I was working there. At that time, (roughly 1959-60) Basie, Sarah Vaughn and Chico would draw the biggest crowds.

      Basie and Gil Evans bands would draw the most musicians, because they were such genius arrangers...EVERY musician wanted to be in Basie's Band...but it wasn't easy...he ran a tight ship, and would punish his musicians for a infringement of his rules by not allowing them to do solos for awhile. Some of Basie's rules...NEVER get on that bandstand with a wrinkled not properly combed, and NEVER arrive drunk or stoned. (Although rumor has it that the wadded up handkerchief on Basie's piano, which he'd use to wipe his nose now and then, was laced with cocaine.)

     Back to Chico...he had such an unusual that time he had a 5 piece band...and would introduce them at the end of each set...and my favorite was.."and here's our cello player Nate Gershman  from the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra."
Who in Jazz was using a cello? According to Wikipedia, his music was described as "chamber jazz". Good call.

      Chico was a well built, sexy, handsome man...and when he would play his drum solo, (sitting in FRONT of his musicians), he would close his eyes...and play, and play...then pop them open, staring at some beauty in the front row, and you'd hear a
"ooooh!" from the lady. It was a game he played every night...women loved him.
I ran into him several times at our mutual butcher, a block from my digs on 48th Street...we'd chat over the pork chops, usually about musicians who had died...strange. But this was the era of heroin overdoses....

I miss those days more than I can say.....

Saturday, August 3, 2013


    This is a work of fiction...not about me..I was never married, or divorced, and I've never lived with anyone named Dorian... R.W.

    After 25 years of marriage, my wife left me for another man, leaving me with this big house. A friend told me I was rattling around, not in a house, but in a well of depression and loneliness...and he was right. It went on for months, but one day my pastor said to me that it was time to get back into a real life, and he wanted me to meet someone named Dorian. On the way there, he raved how beautiful she was...but very quiet, rather mysterious, and with eyes that unsettled some people.
    When we got there, I saw what he meant....a beautiful face...but her eyes had no as coal. "Maybe she's possessed", he whispered. Anyway, to keep this story short, let me say that not too long after meeting her, she came to live with me, and it was wonderful not being alone....but I was never sure how she felt about me.
    The first day after she moved in, I came home from work, unlocked the front door, and called out her name..."Dorie?...I'm here."
I went through the living room, dining room, kitchen, calling out her name....nothing.
I went up to the second floor...2 bedrooms, bathroom.."Dorie...where are you?"
Still nothing.
Had she left me?
Up to the third floor...looked in the bathroom, still calling her name...and finally, in the guest bedroom, there she was, sitting in a chair looking out the window at the street below.
"There you are...didn't you hear me?"
She turned her head, looked at me with those dead eyes for 5 seconds, then turned back to watching the street below.
That hurt!
    BUT....the following day, returning from work, I opened the front door and she was on the other side, waiting for me...and stayed close to me all evening.
I was happy, but confused.
    At bedtime, when I turned out the light, she pressed the whole length of her body against mine...both of us slept au naturel , so thank God for air conditioning, because she threw out a lot of body heat. As I drifted off, I adjusted my body into a more comfortable position...and she followed me..almost like we were glued together. Was this her way of making up for her cold behavior from the day before? It was a puzzle.
    Now as any guy around my age can tell you, in the middle of the night, nature calls...the kidneys rule! ....and it's a trip to the bathroom to take what one of my buddies calls a "Geezer Whiz".
     I slowly and carefully pulled away from her, not wanting to wake her up. I stood by the bed, watching her...eyes closed, deep slow rhythmic breaths....sound asleep. Good!
    I was in and out of the bathroom in a few minutes, and now she was lying on her back, fully stretched out...still so beautiful.
     I had a feeling that she was not fully asleep...that a small part of her brain was awake...fully alert, aware of what was going on around her. If so, would she be happy that I had returned to her in bed? To find out, I slowly lowered my ear to her stomach.
YES! She was happy...I could hear her purring....

Richard Watherwax
All Rights Reserved
1 August 2013

Thursday, November 8, 2012


It was St. Patrick's Day, Spring Break, 1992, and she was standing on Smather's Beach in Key West and she was looking out to sea when he walked up to her and he said I bet you're Irish because you're wearing a green bathing suit and she said no it's just a coincidence and she thought at the same time that he had the most beautiful eyes and he said what college are you from and she told him and she said how about you and he told her and she said what's your major and then he told her and then he said you know that's Cuba out there straight ahead and she said I know and I'd love to go there someday and he said you will...

They were married two years later and took their honeymoon in Cuba and stopped in Key West on the way back and they went to Smather's Beach and he said this is where it all started and she said yes and I'm so happy it did and he said I really love you so much and she said not as much as I love you and he said our love will last forever and she said yes and cried on his shoulder and said I would just die without you and she looked at him and couldn't stop looking at his most beautiful eyes and they went back up north and they moved into a house and he got a good job and she had their first child and as the years passed they had two more children and when one them (the boy) died in an accident she thought she would just die too but didn't and he lost his job but then got a better one and they moved into a bigger house and when he admitted that he'd had an affair she again thought she'd just die but she forgave him and he never cheated on her again and their children grew up and went to college and got married and had their own children and they would all visit each other on Sundays and he said it's been a wonderful life and she said only because our love was so strong and he said yes and held her hand and on their fiftieth anniversary they went to celebrate in Key West which was so different they were disappointed and when they came home he said he didn't feel well and she said what's the matter and he told her and she said it's probably nothing but they went to the doctor anyway and the doctor said it's only a matter of time and when he passed away she thought she'd just die and wanted to because he was the only one she ever loved but naturally she didn't not just then but when her time came the last thing she saw was his most beautiful eyes...

Three years later her great grand daughter was on her Spring Break standing on the nude beach in Cuba looking out to sea when he walked up to her wearing nothing but dark sunglasses and he said Key West is right up there about 90 miles and she said I know and he said and she said and he said...

Friday, August 3, 2012

More Birdland Memories

PeeWee Marquette was the MC at Birdland and would introduce the bands. Now and then he would take the mike between sets and sing OLD ROCKIN' CHAIR...which I break into now and's about gettin' old.

"Ol' Rockin' Chair..
it's got me..
sittin' here,
cane by my side..."

A lot of people didn't know if PeeWee was a male or female.

Peewee Marquette and Count Basie

The house policy was that all of Basie's men got in free when they weren't other words, anytime they wanted to come in. And all his men were big, in good health, well dressed...Basie ran a very tight ship...although he kept a wadded up handkerchief sitting on the piano, with which he'd wipe his nose now and then. I heard that it had cocaine in it (but maybe not).

        Back to PeeWee...when he wasn't announcing acts, he'd take tickets at the door (a BIG $2.00 in 1959)...and I was standing in the checkroom one night next to PeeWee when one of Basie's guys came in (Wyatt Reuther..a big guy) and PeeWee insisted that he pay the $2.00, and Wyatt, who was drunk, said "PeeWee, shut your mother &^$^&  mouth, before I hang you up on a hook." (Peewee was a midget). You could hear it all over the club, cause it was between sets.

Years later I started another project, "The Nightclub Book"...I put ads in papers in the major cities, asking people to send me their souvenir night club photos, hopefully in the original paper folders. I got a ton of them, with long from a soldier returning from World War Two, and the picture is of him presenting his fiance with  a ring in the Latin Quarter. All those folders, photos, and stories are now in storage. 

So...years later I called PeeWee so I could interview him on tape and hear some of his stories about Birdland...and he said, "Sure, Richard...for a hundred dollars". That never happened. 

Not long after I moved to Maine to open a restaurant...but that's another story.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Yet another Shel Silverstein story...

I knew Shel in Greenwich Village when he was living there, back in the fifties.

I used to drink at the Limelight Cafe (where I ran up a tab of over $1,000 before they noticed it and stopped me). 

Anyway, he hung out there too and we were on a nodding basis, and, when enough beers went down, we had conversations of no importance. 
I can't remember any of them.

When I ran into him here at the Pier House Beach Club in 1986 I told him that when I came home from working at Birdland around 4:00 a.m. (in '59 or '60), I'd emerge from the subway at Sheridan Square...there was an Israeli coffee shop across from the subway entrance. It was always crowded at that hour from all the drinkers from the bars that had just closed. There was a huge plate glass window running the length of it, and in the winter it was all frosted up and you couldn't really see inside. But I knew when Shel was there, because he would always sit at the same table, and there was a spotlight over the table shining directly down on his bald head, and it would cause a glow on the frosted window.

...and that's my Shel story. What's yours?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wedding Photography...The Early Years

This probably won't interest anyone but photographers, but since there are more of them than bartenders in Key West, here we go....

I had 2 hobbies in high school...magic and photography. I gave magic shows around my hometown of McKeesport, Pa...usually at church events, or the Moose or Elks, the Y.M.C.A., etc. But in my senior year, a local newspaper man sold me my first professional camera...a 4x5 Speed Graphic press camera.

And he recommended me to his friends to photograph their wedding. It was a Mr. Buck, and a Miss Berry , both in their forties...and it was their first marriage. I remember that they didn't have a car, and asked me to drive them to the church. That's about all that I can remember about the event, but it apparently went well, because I shot a few more in my hometown before going off to college.

    But what I want to talk about is how it's much easier to photograph a wedding (or anything) today, thanks to the digital revolution. When I shoot a wedding today, I put the memory card into my Nikon, attach the strobe to the top of the camera, turn the camera on, and away I go. The computers in the camera and the strobe talk to each other, and when I push the button, the camera automatically focuses, determines the shutter speed and aperture, and bang! have a sharp well exposed  picture. 

But way back then it was a different story.....

    I shot the Buck 'n' Berry wedding with my Speed Graphic. That camera took film holders...there were 2 sheets of 4" x 5" black and white film in each holder, one on each side.

 Here's what I'd do ...
1. I would put the film holder in the back of the camera, pull out the slide that had protected the film from light, and find a place to put it for a moment.
2. I'd set the shutter speed, usually 1/100 of a second.
3. Unlock the focusing scale on the camera bed, then focus on the subject through the Kalart rangefinder that was built on the side of the camera.
4. Lock the focusing scale so it wouldn't move.
5. Look down at the indicator on the scale and see what the distance was to the subject.
6. Since I had done it before, I knew that if it said 12 feet, then the exposure would be best at an aperture setting of F16...(depending which flashbulb I was using, and the film speed)
7. After I set the aperture, I'd put a new flashbulb in the flashgun.
8. Compose the subject through the optical viewer on top of the camera, and say what every photographer says since Louis Daguerre ...1..2..3....
9. Push the button!

    Now to do the next shot, I'd put the slide back in the film  holder...pull out the holder, flip it over, put it back in the camera,pull out the slide, put it somewhere, cock the shutter again, remove the flashbulb, put a new one in, refocus, possibly set the aperture to a new setting, look through the viewer, and fire again. After a bit of practice, I had it down to 30 seconds.

    Now lets say I was shooting 6 bridesmaids and the bride and father coming down the aisle. They usually come racing down, because they're  a little embarrassed by being the center of attention....and often they bunch up, with almost no space between them. How many shots can I  get with it taking  30 seconds to get ready for each picture? Not many...and that's why in those days , after the ceremony,  I would recreate a lot of the event...bridesmaids coming down the aisle one at a time...shooting the exchange of the rings again (no telephotos or zoom lenses on the Speed Graphic in those days), and so on.  

The only thing I miss about those days is the fact that I used to be the only person there with a camera.

Monday, July 23, 2012

My Beatnik Daze

In 1960, during my Beatnik Daze, my girlfriend collected a lot of money from a car accident she had been in, and she flew us from Greenwich Village to San Francisco. Found a place in North Beach (later to be the home of the flower children in '67). I had been a bartender in the Village, so I landed a job doing the same at the Vesuvio bar (which is still there, 52 years later). It was couple of blocks from Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore, and the bar was owned at the time by a nasty Frenchman named Andre, who actually wore a beret. He told me to serve the customers, not socialize with them...and was very strict about that. So I would make martinis for Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and my hero...Jack. It was my reading of Kerouac's On The Road that inspired me, in 1957, to drive from Pennsylvania to Hermosa Beach, California, where I actually sat on the beach playing bongos, sporting a goatee. I look at those photos now, and think,"who IS that?"
But now back to  my serving the literary giants in North Beach at Vesuvio with my speaking role reduced to "what will you have?" and "thank you".I always identified with Kerouac, but didn't know why at that time..but now I do..we were both alcoholics. But I was lucky and stopped..and unfortunately  it stopped him.

       I have about 7 books about Jack, and 1 of his writing (the 57 paperback of On the Road)...and about 6 other books on my other hero, Andy Warhol, who graduated from high school 6 years ahead of me in nearby Pittsburgh.

     I would see Andy and his entourage at Max's Kansas City in N.Y. City in the early 70's when I was drinking there...would nod when he came in but never spoke to him.  Max's had a tank of Piranha behind the bar, and at 5:00 every day several goldfish would meet their fate in that would pack the bar. Every time a goldfish would die, Andy would say, in a resigned voice,.."Oh, my!...Oh, my!"
Then they would all go to the back room, and no one was allowed in there.

       Now I'll jump back in time to '58...when  I was washing dishes at the Cock and Bull coffee house in the Village, a slender  and quiet guy would subway into the Village from Brooklyn, and play guitar and sing ..and I remember he had very few teeth, but a voice that really impressed me. He would pass the hat after a set, then move on to another coffee shop. It was Richie Havens.

      My best job in my life was when I was working  at Birdland for 3 years...'59 - 61 (with 3 months off in Frisco in 1960)...I worked in the darkroom, printing souvenir photos the camera girl would take. It was America's best Jazz club at the time...and every night I'd see the likes of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Count Basie, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dizzy Gillespie, etc.

    The camera girl would go from table to table between sets, shoot customer's pictures, and when the band was playing, I'd be in a broom closet sized "darkroom" under the steps developing the film and making 8x10 glossy prints and small match covers from the pictures. The large prints would go in a paper folder with  the Birdland logo on the cover, and the camera girl would try to sell them to the customers. It was a very lucrative business.The photography, cigarette, and checkroom concession was owned by Planetary something or the other, and it was no secret that it was owned and run by people that Tony Soprano would have comfortably fit in with.

I also worked for them at the Copa, Latin Quarter, The 82 Club, the Metropole, and so on. Interesting people frequented  night clubs....Norman Mailer loved Birdland, and I remember being in the checkroom one night and saw the cops coming down the steps, and going into the club.They arrested Norman on a disorderly conduct charge..he had started a fight over a bill that he didn't agree with...I remember it was under ten dollars. He was back a week later, and I handed him his coat as he left...he went home and had a late night party...and stabbed his wife, sending her to the hospital. She must have loved him, because she didn't press charges, and he got away with a slap on the wrist.

The 82 Club was at 82 East 4th street, and was a female impersonators club...the "waiters" were tough lesbians in tuxedos, the show girls were a mixture of drag queens and beautiful lesbians. I think I was the only straight person there, and I had been told to stay in the darkroom, and mind my own business. Good advice...sometimes I'd hear loud shouting coming from the kitchen next to the was Anna Genovese, Vito's wife, who was the manager, yelling at one of the waiters for something or the other. They all lived in fear of her.

    I kept a low profile, especially after I came to work one evening and found police and detectives there...seems one of the drag queens had hung himself from a pipe in the dressing room. And another time, one of the waiters used my darkroom to beat the hell out of  another one, who had made a pass at her girlfriend.

I had been out getting my dinner, and when I came back, I noticed a strange smell in the darkroom. Ever smell hot blood? It was all over the print dryers, which were at the same temperature as a hot  iron.

       And in finishing, for now, my friend LaRue and I were coming out of a coffee shop (The Rienzi) on MacDougal Street in the Village one morning in '60, and a beat looking guy with a guitar came across the street to talk to LaRue, who knew him. I had a Leica around my neck, and the guy shook hands with me and said ,"Hey, you should take a picture of me and put it in Time magazine..I'm gonna be famous". I laughed it off, and went on my way. LaRue told me later it was Bobby Dylan.

Life is filled with missed opportunities.